By Fredrick Odero

For a long time Obunga used to be one of the filthiest informal settlements in Kisumu City.
The area used to host mountains of garbage, which posed a health hazard, with crime and diseases being the order of the day.

It was also an open defecation area for many years, which was an eye sore and a major cause of epidemics, such as cholera.

But a tour of Trans Nzoia, Nakuru and Kampala by a group of waste champions from the area and a number of civic leaders from the defunct Kisumu Municipal council turned out to be a game changer.

Among those in the entourage in 2011 was a gallant woman whose role in changing Obunga settlements into a model area needs emphasis.
Mama Phelgona Atieno was moved by what she saw during the tours where waste, which had hitherto been dreaded, was actually a source of income.

Mama Phelgona together with other people who went for the tour started an organization called Kony Wadu self-help group in 2011 in Kisumu after a series of exchange programems organized by a number of non-governmental organizations and the defunct Kisumu Municipal Council whose sole purpose was to manage waste and, in the process, earn an income from it.

Others in the Kony Wadu self-help group included Michael Onyuro as the coordinator, Paul Nyaota as the chairman and John Okeya as the treasurer.
What struck the group was a programnme they saw in Kitezi in Kampala which hosted a huge landfill where waste was being managed before being converted into assorted products, including power alcohol and other artifacts.

After the exchange programme Mama Phelgona, who is the patron of Kony Wadu, mobilized young people into groups so that they can start making Obunga better and cleaner area.

Mama Phelgona , a visionary community leader and role model to many Kisumu waste management champions

The lady who was borne and brought up in Obunga 61 years ago, did not know that waste, instead of being an environmental menace could be turned into a money-minting enterprise at the end of the day.

The agile lady says that she started mobilizing local boys and girls in order to start cleaning the environment and in the process make money but initially met resistance.

“When we started the area was very filthy forcing us to sensitize the locals on the issue of waste management and proper sanitation,” Mama Phelgona says, adding that they first managed to recruit some 50 waste management champions whom they trained after the Kampala tour.

For easy management, Mama Phelgona says they zoned the area into units such as Kasarani, Central one, Central two, Sega Sega and Kamakoa.

To fix open defecation problem, they started by building with the help of the Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company which ‘gave us some funding enough to build 15 new toilets at a cost of Kshs. 20,000 each’, she says.

With the toilets in place, open defecation ended in Obunga thereby immensely improving sanitary conditions in the vast informal settlement.

Ending open defecation helped reduce outbreaks of water borne diseases like diarrhea that used to be common in the area, Mama Phelgona says.

The Obunga waste managers recently got a boost from area Member of Parliament Mr. Fred Ouda, who gave the group 20 wheelbarrows for collecting and transporting waste safely.

She says that they can do a lot if the County Government of Kisumu could allocate a piece of land to collect, sort and add value to the waste like it is done in Kitezi in Kampala.

But the programme has its fair share of challenges since they lack enough tools, such as wheelbarrows, handcarts or trucks to work with effectively.

She said that ferrying waste from one collection point to another is still a major challenge in addition to lack of a land fill.

“Hiring a truck from the collection site to the Kachok dump site is very expensive. It costs a minimum of 3000/- per week” she says.

In addition some residents still sneak under cover of darkness to throw waste along the road but though youth waste champions from Jamis Taka Investment have been keeping vigil and anybody found throwing waste along the road is apprehended and forced to carry them away.

Isaiah Odhiambo, a member of a Youth group called Jamis Taka explains that they started the group in 2015 with the sole aim of ensuring that the environment within their area turned clean since it was always associated with a lot of ailments and poor hygiene.

He says that they were also moved by the state of a number of youths within Obunga who were ever idle and had nothing to do since no formal employment has been available for them.

Mr. Isaiah Odhiambo (red t-shirt) of Jamis Taka Youth explaining how they make pavement materials

Odhiambo says one of the waste management champions from the area Mr. Silas, a fellow youth really motivated them to start collecting, sorting and disposing waste.

The young lad says they started doing a cleanup exercise with a few youths who agreed to kick out rogues from Obunga.

Odhiambo says the idea paid off since most of them are busy and can earn a living from waste management.

They begun partnering with some organizations like ICD which provided them with a handcart for pushing the waste to where they are assorted and safely disposed.

Odhiambo says they started the group with only four youth but since then the group has grown to about 20 youth, adding that each youth can make shs 16,000 in a month from managing the waste after visiting about 150 homes where they collect the waste.

He says one of the greatest challenges they encounter is the transportation of waste from Obunga to Kachok dumpsite which is several kilometers away from the area.

“It is a major challenge since we don’t have a dedicated dumpsite to separate the waste we have collected,” he says.

The collectors say they work three days in a week. “Fridays are when we do most of the heavy load within Kamakowa and parts of Nyawita just within the Railways ward,” he adds.

Miss Phanice Awuor, 25, a diploma holder in business management from Masinde Muliro University and now the proprietor of Dawn of Obunga Community Based Organization, ventured into waste collection after looking for a job for more than a year.

Awuor says she started venturing in waste management in Obunga as means of cleaning the place and earning a living.

She is proud to have 20 members in town who are benefiting from managing the waste and earning a living.

The young lady says the team covers about 200 households. They supply the houses with bags to put their waste. The wastes are collected every Friday and Saturday. Each house pays at least 50 shillings or more depending on the weight of the waste collected.

She says that they hire a tractor that ferries the waste to Kachok Dumpsite at a cost of 1000 shillings every Friday.

Awuor says they pay between 400 to 300 shillings daily to the youths who help them to collect and separate the waste.

She says that Obunga is today one of the cleanest informal settlements in Kisumu town today due to the initiative adding that water borne diseases have in the process been reduced considerably.

Phanice Awour, a business management graduate, ensuring the wastes are properly sorted before they are packaged and transported

Recently, a project known as Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health(CUSSH) had a capacity building engagement with waste managers within the four informal settlements namely Obunga, Manyatta, Nyalenda and Bandani areas on sustainable urban waste management in Kisumu City, she says.

CUSSH which started in 2018 is a four-year project working in 13 partner organizations across four continents to help cities develop in ways which improve population health and environment sustainability.

The Cities include London in United Kingdom, Rennes in France, Kisumu and Nairobi in Kenya and Beijing and Ningbo in China.

Through the close partnerships with Kisumu County Government and local organizations, CUSSH will work towards achievement of policy decisions to accelerate health and sanitation stainability goals in Kisumu.

Meanwhile, the Director Conservation and Stewardship in Kisumu County Government, Mr Ken Koyoo, says garbage collectors have played a critical role in keeping the county clean.

Through the Kisumu Waste Actors Network (KIWAN), a waste management organization which has more than 100 members, the department has managed to address issues revolving around waste management in the county.

Koyoo says through the organization, they have managed to recycle solid waste but hastens to add that the county faces numerous challenges that mar waste disposal.

He says the challenges range from lack of bins, pick up stations and transfer stations which have hampered the process of proper waste management.

Koyoo says that the organization has been infiltrated by illegal waste collectors who are poorly equipped to carry out the task.

He says inadequate recycling equipment and little awareness on the importance of garbage management has led to poor waste disposal
Koyoo says they have been engaging street boys in waste management after which some are absorbed into the establishment.

He says Kisumu County faces a monumental challenge in waste management since the residents release between 400 and 500 tons of waste per day.

Koyoo says the programme is one of the ways and means of rehabilitating former street urchins and absorbing them back into society.

The official says the county has a Solid Waste Management Act 2015 and Waste Management Regulations rooted in 2006 which are not known to the public.

He explains that the department is in the process of creating awareness on the above policy and legal frameworks to help improve waste and sanitation management in Kisumu, especially in the informal settlements.